Premier of Turkey presents a puzzle Anti-Western views, but a pragmatic approach

June 30, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The man at the center of Turkey's political earthquake is considerably less militant than he was 20 years ago, but he has not abandoned his Islamic and anti-Western beliefs.

Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamic party leader who on Friday put together a coalition that made him prime minister of a resolutely secular country, has a grandfatherly manner and a broad, reassuring smile.

During the campaign leading up to a parliamentary election in December, in which his party won slightly more than 21 percent of the vote, he often plunged into crowds after speaking and spent hours shaking hands, kissing babies and listening to personal complaints.

But his winning manner is accompanied by a fervent belief that Turkey has strayed too far from its Muslim roots and become too close to Europe, Israel and the United States. Now, Turks are wondering which Necmettin Erbakan is their new prime minister: the pragmatic reformer or the militant fundamentalist.

"Maybe he's a gentle demon," suggested Alan Makovsky, a specialist on Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"He is softer and more personable, even though his anti-Western views are still there. He doesn't advocate imposition of Islamic law, but that may be because it's against the Constitution to do that in Turkey, and he knows that his party would be banned right away if he came out and said that was his goal. So he tiptoes around it."

Erbakan used his political skills to negotiate an unlikely and even bizarre coalition with former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, an outspoken secularist who only a few months ago asserted that her guiding principle was "no coalition with the fundamentalists."

Ciller will serve as deputy prime minister and foreign minister. If .. the new government survives a confidence vote next month and manages to consolidate itself, she is to alternate with Erbakan as prime minister, with each serving for one year at a time.

Erbakan was deputy prime minister twice during the 1970s and did not push militant proposals.

As he crisscrossed the country last year, he promised to join with other Muslim countries in what he described at various times as a military alliance, an economic union and a passport-free travel zone.

When he kicked off his campaign before a crowd of thousands at an Istanbul mosque, he promised "to work for a just order" and "to liberate Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Jerusalem."

The Cabinet list that Erbakan announced after cementing his coalition suggested that the military, which is secularist, is wary.

Under the coalition agreement, Ciller's True Path party will hold the foreign affairs, defense and interior ministries, giving it control of the national security apparatus.

Erbakan's Welfare Party will control the labor, public works and agriculture ministries.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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